EDMONTON - Dallas Eakins brings an emphasis on fitness, accountability and frankness to his new job as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
His arrival also creates a new beginning for a team that has missed the playoffs seven straight years. Forward Jordan Eberle said it's time the Oilers forgot about their potential and started proving their ability.
"It's a new slate, new coach, new mandate," Eberle said Wednesday. "There's a point, probably a couple years ago, when you get sick and tired of hearing how good you're going to be and just want to get to that point."
Fellow veteran forward Sam Gagner said the expectation for the team has to be nothing less than the playoffs.
"We've been through a lot of losing," he said after the team's camp opened with medicals and fitness testing. "It helps you grow as a person but it's never fun. Our core is pretty much intact and we have a lot to prove.
"It's important for us to realize that the time is now to turn things around."
To that end Eakins, hired in the off-season to replace the fired Ralph Krueger, made it clear to the players it's time to shed the "young team" label and show they belong in the NHL.
"It's a cop-out to be labelled young," said Gagner, who's heading into his seventh season with the Oilers. "It allows you to go through some growing periods but that's done now. We've been through a lot as a core and it's time for us to move forward.
"We have a mix of veterans, young guys and everything in between and it's important for us to reach that next level."
They'll try to do that without veteran captain Shawn Horcoff (traded to Dallas), minus an established backup to goaltender Devan Dubnyk and with No. 1 centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—the first pick in the 2011 draft—on the sidelines. Nugent-Hopkins underwent off-season shoulder surgery and is expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season.
Eakins, who was hired last June after will experiment with winger Taylor Hall, the team's leading scorer last season, moving into the vacant centre spot.
"Don't make too much of that," Eakins cautioned. "It's not like I've asked this guy to go play right defence. He's played centre before. It may be an option for us…I want as many options as I can.
"This is my experiment. If it works, great, if it doesn't I was crazy and we'll move him back to left wing where he's a pretty good player."
For his part, Eakins said one of his immediate tasks is to learn the personalities of each of his players.
"It's absolutely No. 1 for me," he said. "I don't know how you motivate a guy or push him in the right direction if you don't know what makes him tick. I just don't know how to do it. You really have to get to know the individuals."
The former Toronto Marlies coach assured his players there would be no surprises. He'll be frank and upfront with them on all issues.
"It's common sense to me," he said. "I don't like surprises…and I don't think players need surprises either. They'll know exactly where they stand with me."
In return he expects full accountability from his players, and that, said Gagner and Eberle, is how it should be.
"He demands a lot of us, which is great," said Eberle. "Accountability is one of the most important things in the dressing room and with Dallas, if there's a problem he's going to address it. That's how a team should function. If a guy's not working hard someone should say something."
The Oilers have 62 players in camp. They will open the pre-season Saturday with split-squad games against the Flames in Edmonton and Calgary.